Closing Time for Drake Power Plant? CC Students Weigh in at Public Meeting

By CORY PAGE

The Martin Drake coal-fired power plant has been an operational and noticeable component of Colorado Springs’s downtown skyline for nearly a century. Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU), a publicly owned and operated utility company, oversees the power plant. City Council, which also serves as CSU’s Governing Board, hosted a second town hall meeting Tuesday night to gather input on the decommissioning of the power plant.

Photo by Nick Penzel

Since 2015, CSU has expressed publicly that it will shutter operations at Drake by 2035, but Tuesday’s meeting discussed paths for an even earlier closure. The City Hall’s meeting room was dwarfed by an impressive turnout of supporters from both sides. Various CSU proposal boards were scattered across the meeting space and lobby.

The renderings showed various paths towards decommissioning Drake, the visible impacts each would have on the downtown community, and the proposed decommissioning dates of 2025, 2030, and 2035.

Costs for the early closure options remain obscure, as CSU has yet to release Drake’s operating budget to the public. According to Gazette reporter Conrad Swanson, “Approximately five times more people urged CSU board members to close down the coal-fired power plant early [and] then encouraged them to keep it open during the town hall meeting Tuesday evening.” Colorado College students in attendance were largely a part of that majority, joining community members in holding signs that read “protect people, not polluters” and “there is no planet B.” CC Democrats organized carpooling efforts to get as many students from campus to Town Hall as possible.

Freshman Zach Benevento spoke about the impact of climate change on his generation: “There is a bigger picture to this issue, climate change, which I think brought a lot of us here. [Climate change] will matter more for our generation than yours, and for us, it is very important. We will be living with changing temperatures and a changing world.”

Prominent figures at UCCS also spoke out in favor of an early shut down. Linda Kogan, Sustainability Director at UCCS, said it has become increasingly hard to meet their carbon neutrality goals without CSU’s cooperation. Similarly, Colorado College has aggressive carbon neutrality goals to meet by 2020, and is struggling to meet those goals without a more diverse renewable energy portfolio to choose from.

Business leaders, like Susan Edmondson of the Downtown Partnership, also expressed their support for the earliest closure possible. The Downtown Partnership, is a platform for new enterprise in downtown Colorado Springs. Edmondson alluded to the fact that the city has lost major business opportunities, and will continue to in the future, due to the lack of prioritization of renewable energy saying, “Even tech companies that are high energy users—your Googles and Facebooks—are seeking cities that prioritize renewable energy.”

But not all who attended voiced support for an early closure. Many argued that low energy bills contributed to their high standard of living and quality of life in the Springs. One speaker said, increasing utility rates would further marginalize the city’s impoverished communities and push out residents who came to Colorado Springs for its low cost of living. Another speaker went as far to say carbon, the prominent element found in coal, is the ultimate “life-giving substance” and that it has been “greening the earth” over the course of its existence. 

Of the City Council members in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, Bill Murray and Andy Pico supported later closure dates of 2030 and 2035 respectively. Richard Skorman and Yolanda Avila have expressed support for an earlier closure around 2025, while Jill Gaebler and Dave Geislinger remain undecided and have yet to give public input on the matter.

The next meeting will take place on Monday, Dec. 18. During this meeting the CSU board is expected to make their final decision on the Drake closure date. CC Democrats are encouraging students to attend and again will host carpooling efforts to help students get from the Worner Campus Center to the final board meeting located at the Plaza of the Rockies at 12:30PM.

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